Most of us want to build a better body, because of how it makes us feel, and how it makes us look. We know we feel better when we’re in great shape.
We also know we look better and more attractive when our physiques are on point.
Great physiques being broad shoulders, a small waist, and low body fat.
Can you build a great physique by doing martial arts training alone?
Are you one of the many people who want to build muscle, but don’t enjoy going to the gym?
Are you better off with striking or grappling martial arts?
In this article, I will discuss whether you can build a good physique through martial arts training alone, and which ones are best to do.
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Can You Build Muscle Through Grappling?
You will notice, when watching any high-level BJJ, Wrestling, or Judo match, that the majority of the competitors are well-built, and extremely well-conditioned athletes.
Martial arts can increase muscle mass and helps one to become more toned overall. Punching and kicking requires a lot of strength, demanding the muscles in your arms, legs, and core to work hard.
It is, however, important to eat a small calorie surplus, as this is what your body needs to grow.
It doesn’t matter how long you train for, if you’re not in a calorie surplus you won’t put on weight, whether it’s fat or muscle.
You must train with enough intensity, so that your body knows it has to grow and build more muscle.
Get the right nutrition and make sure you’re consuming enough fats, protein, and carbohydrates.
If you train grappling martial arts multiple times a week, you may already be eating a high carb diet.
If you’re average sized, it’s important to eat at least 100g of good fats per day, which are found in beef and oily fish. This is needed for good hormone production.
Eat roughly 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight, so you can build and maintain muscle mass.
What you do off the mat, is as important as what you do on the mat, when it comes to building muscle.
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Conditioning Training In Grappling Martial Arts
Many martial arts will incorporate conditioning into their training, in the same way they do with technique and sparring, except BJJ.
It’s hard to find a BJJ school that incorporates any sort of conditioning training into their curriculum.
You have a small warm-up and a stretch class in the majority of academics.
BJJ instructors often respond to questions about why they don’t do conditioning by saying, that if you’ve paid for BJJ, then I’m going to show you BJJ.
If you’re looking for conditioning, go to the gym or an exercise class if you’re interested in it.
In general, most BJJ instructors encourage weight lifting and conditioning, but most people tend to view it in a separate manner, usually having nothing to do with the academy.
On the otherhand, wrestling is the complete opposite no matter what level you train at.
Most classes will incorporate a form of conditioning into the class structure.
Typically, you’ll be doing neck bridges, and carry drills with a partner, turn over drills using a heavy bag etc.
Then, going up to the NCAA Division I level of wrestling, coaching staff are dedicated to making sure those wrestling are in as good a shape as possible.
Judo will also incorporate conditioning into the class structure.
This sort of training will certainly help build muscle and lose fat, as long as you eat and recover properly from training.
Weight lifting as part of a complete judo training program, is encouraged.
All these martial arts will help build muscle to some degree, but wrestling will be the best grappling martial art to build muscle, due to how the training is structured. This is ideal, especially if you don’t want to do any weight lifting out of class time.
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Can You Build Muscle Through Striking?
Striking arts tend to be far more specific and rule-based compared to grappling arts.
Meaning, you can have a very limited amount of legal techniques.
For example, Tae Kwon Do only allows kicks to the body and head, and punches only to the body.
Therefore, you are very unlikely to gain any muscle doing Tae Kwon Do, as you’re only using a few muscles in the legs, hips, and core for the overwhelming majority of your attacks.
Muay Thai can’t be classified only as a striking martial art, because you have clinch work and sweep.
But nonetheless, the majority of the techniques used in Muay Thai are striking techniques.
You’ll utilize far more muscle in the body than many other martial arts.
Simply because you’re using all your limbs, and there being a clinch range you have to work in.
Striking arts aren’t very effective for building muscle, simply because you’re getting very little resistance on your muscles.
Though, doing Muay Thai would be better than doing no exercise at all.
Conditioning In Striking Martial Arts
If you’re looking for a martial art that incorporates conditioning work into its training, boxing is going to be your best bet.
You can’t divorce boxing training from its conditioning aspect, no matter if you go to a hobbyist gym, an amateur gym, or a pro boxing gym.
Conditioning training would be sit-ups and crunches, push-ups, or running.
In boxing, conditioning is viewed as one of your skills that is to be improved and developed upon.
This is scarce in almost any other martial art.
Most of the martial arts academies, teach the techniques of the martial arts and then try to implement them during sparring.
Conditioning work or muscle building would then be done in your own time.
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The answer to the question, which produces the better physique, grapplers or strikers? This is a difficult question to answer. This is the case because most of the aesthetic athletes in those sports built muscular physiques through resistance training and weight lifting, not practicing their given martial art.
Another thing to mention is the prevalence of performance-enhancing drugs (PED) in certain martial arts.
BJJ is going to be the most notorious for PED usage.
This is because the competition that pays athletes the most money, are typically superfight organizations like Polaris and WNO, who have no drug testing or rules forbidding the use of PED.
PED can also help in developing muscle and building a good physique.
In summary, if you want to build a good physique, doing three 45 minutes of resistance training a week, will be far better than any martial arts class.
The rest comes down to rest, recovery and nutrition.
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I’m a Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and I write about the latest in all things martial arts.